Donald Trump: Presidential Poker

3 years ago
Donald Trump And Presidential Poker
17:04
09 Mar

In the run-up to ‘ Super Tuesday’, a day when US presidential hopefuls find out just how likely their campaigns are to succeed in the battle for a White House play-off spot, one interesting article caught the eye more than all the political writings combined.

The Street, normally a financial media outlet, published the ‘The Champion Poker Player’s Guide to Defeating Donald Trump’, an interesting tale which saw Phil Hellmuth brought in to provide expert guidance on how to ‘trump Trump’.

The 14-time WSOP bracelet winnerHellmuth put himself in the shoes of Trump’s rivals for the Republican nomination, and tried to explain how they should view their wild and unconventional opponent’s ‘plays.' Hellmuth describedTrump as the “ultimate 'loose-aggressive' player."


Of course, dealing with extremely ‘loose-aggressive’ players is one of the trickiest aspects of poker, as most people here will be well aware of. Their unpredictability is one of the keys of their game, the only common factor being their consistently aggressive approach when they do get involved.

Cue Trump, who fits this bill perfectly – the man is as much a ‘maniac’ in politics as your LAG opponent is at the table. Mexicans? Build a wall! Six-four offsuit with position? I can bully you out of the pot with it no problem!


So, what does Hellmuth suggest?

"When you're playing against a loose-aggressive player, think of a harpoon,” is Hellmuth’s advice. “You nail them with a harpoon, on one big pot for all their chips. They're a big target," he told The Street’s Jeremy Greenfield "and Trump is a big target."

So far, despite Trump having entered lots of ‘big pots’ with his outlandish ideas on immigration controls (walls along the Mexican border) and personal attacks on various rivals and detractors ( McKain and the Pope!) no-one has managed to land a death-blow to the multi-billionaire businessman’s White House dreams.

In fact, quite the opposite has happened, with Super Tuesday witnessing a Trump victory of very damaging proportions to his rivals.

He's playing many weak hands, so you'd expect him to get harpooned a lot," said Hellmuth, adding that, "The problem is, you've harpooned Trump five times and he's so smart, he's so resilient, he has so much style, he's changed the rules of poker."

This may seem a step too far with the analogies. Those with long-memories have seen politicians of Trump’s ilk come and go over the years, but another poker analogy – which Hellmuth fails to mention – has yet to be tried in full.


‘Position is key, especially when facing a LAG player.’

It takes patience to use this effectively, and Hellmuth does indeed mention patience quite a lot – though he says it simply hasn’t worked as of yet, something which Super Tuesday seems to reflect.

However, p osition and powerful play combined is exactly what LAG players, and Donald Trump as well, hate the most! When Clinton laughs at Trump, she’s laughing at millions who see him as a saviour, or when fellow republicans Rubio and Cruz denounce his rhetoric by calling his policies ‘stupid’, they are in effect calling all of his supporters stupid too!


They are not fighting fire with fire, and they are doing it at the wrong times and from the wrong positions. Hellmuth is completely right when he says:

The LAG controls the pace of the game, controls the flow of the game, controls how much money is put in the pot and pushes the pace to make sure every pot is bigger. Whether he has good cards or not, he has faith that he can outplay you or get lucky.

The only times Trump has been bloodied is when his critics have played Trump at his own game, firing back big cards when they have them – but they fail by not firing back when they don’t have big holdings!

And this is their mistake, as Hellmuth states:

The way you defeat that is to get even more money in -- you have to get more aggressive. You make sure that every time you have a hand that's likely to be better than his hand, you're getting big raises in. You have to have good discipline, but you get aggressive."

In poker terms, this means you have to give them a taste of their own medicine, rather than sticking to your own ‘small-ball’ or ‘tight’ play. How often have you finally fought back against a LAG player, perhaps even got lucky yourself on the river, and watched as they skulked back under their rock for a while. In the words of the old and very popular UK show ‘ Dad’s Army’:

They don’t like it up them sir!”


As one of my US poker-playing ‘friends-of-a-friend’, Garett Guenot, puts it:

Fighting fire with fire against a LAG player is a viable option if you have deep pockets ($) and/or are willing to gamble, because instead of playing hands that you're a 70-80% favorite --by playing tight and waiting for spots to attack-- you're going to be playing hands that are 45-65% favorites if you're matching his play style. So wavering in that 45-65% range there is going to be a lot of variance. To translate that into the Trump situation-- the opposing candidates would have better success "tightening" and focusing their attacks on Trump’s major flaws instead of loosening their attack range (fighting fire with fire) and calling him out on his "small hands" like Marco Rubio did. Bringing your attack down to Trump’s level will only let him beat you with experience and his current momentum.

All good, indeed excellent, advice - but it hasn’t quite panned out that way: in poker and politics the course is rarely smooth. “Rubio can't wait. Rubio changed tactics, finally aggressively attacked Trump -- and he looked pretty good doing it," said Hellmuth pre-Super Tuesday, but it was probably too little, too late according to most analysts.

Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak said:

I still think there is time to stop Trump, but boy, the sands of the hourglass are running out and I think they will be almost completely out by March 14 if we don't have a unity ticket that unifies the non-Trump vote."


In poker parlance, this means the whole table taking a stance together against the aggressive/bullying tactics of one wild player in the hope that he can be stopped before he does too much damage to the individuals involved in the game.

“Don’t let these people play you for a mug. All they’re doing is pouring petrol on your grievance without offering you a solution,” are the words that English Labour MP John Cruddas used, himself no stranger to defeating right-wing politicians of Trump’s ilk.

However, if Trump does indeed get the Republican presidential nomination, then Clinton (the likely democratic nominee) will certainly have to up her own game to fell Trump at the polls come November. She will have to appeal to those sections of US society who are indeed scared (whether justified or not) and throw in some cards she’d doesn’t like the look of herself.


Indeed, cards you’d never play normally become necessary tools to breaking down the LAG player. If Hellmuth were to somehow make the World Series final table the week beforehand, she might just pick up a few tips on how to deal with them!

But remember, too little too late and the ‘maniac’ walks off with the biggest prize of all!


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Andrew from Edinburgh, Scotland, is a professional journalist, international-titled chess master, and avid poker player.Read more

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